MIKHA’IL, METROPOLITAN OF DAMIETTA (?-after 1208)
A Bishop, theologian. Mikha’il, an active defender of the Coptic Orthodox faith in the late 12th and early 13th centuries, was the first Coptic bishop to receive the title “metropolitan” (Arabic: mutran). His best known works include a collection of canon law that, while of great merit, was soon overshadowed by that of al-Safi ibn al-‘Assal, and works of controversy (such as his Usages That Distinguish the Orthodox Copts) occasioned especially by the activities of a convert to the Melchite church, the popular preacher Marqus ibn al-Qunbar. Against Marqus’ insistence on the necessity of auricular confession of sins to a spiritual master, Mikha’il defended the practice—fairly recent in the Coptic Church of his day—of confession to God alone.
Other Coptic particularities that Mikha’il defended included circumcision, the marriage of first cousins, and making the sign of the cross with one finger (representing Christ’s one nature) from left to right (indicating the believer’s hope of joining the sheep at Christ’s right hand rather than the goats at his left; Matt. 25:31-33). The distinction between this and the Melchites’ two-fingered right-to-left crossing could not have been clearer.